Thursday, June 26, 2008

Asserting your right against self-incrimination

In what could easily be declared the most important blog post of the year in terms of its immediate, practical value to those who read it, Greg Perkins of Noodlefood makes a very clear, concise, and crucial point: "[N]ever, ever, under any circumstances, talk with the police -- guilty or innocent, a suspect or not, even if [you] are smarter than Aristotle and Newton combined, articulate as all get out, an expert in the law, and pure as the wind-driven snow. Never."

The catalyst for Perkins' post is a lecture (video below) by Regent University law professor James Duane about the right against self-incrimination as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (along with a follow-up talk with Virginia Beach Police Officer (and law student) George Bruch).

In these talks, Duane and Bruch show how even the most innocuous statements by the most innocent of people could put them in jeopardy as a result of circumstances beyond their control. Duane's talk is replete with deeply compelling examples and he even demonstrates how the majority of the law class he is lecturing before freely answered a question that could be used by prosecutors in a court of law to secure a conviction (and rightfully so) for a capital offence.

As a public service, I have made a "To all law enforcement officials" card (disclaimer) that readers can print out and carry in their wallet as a reminder of what to say when questioned by police. I'm keeping a copy of this card with my driver's license just to ensure that I take no action that would ever incriminate me, innocent or guilty, when confronted by police.

As Professor Duane explains in his lecture, the right against self-incrimination exists to protect the innocent and it is every individual's right to invoke it. Given the number of innocent people (including accomplished, intelligent people) who freely indict themselves of crimes they did not commit when questioned by the police, invoking this right could mean the difference between your freedom and countless wasted years stuck behind the slammer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I left a comment on Paul's post over at Noodlefood about Jenkins v. Anderson, 447 U.S. 231 (1980), which allows even total silence to be used against a defendant who takes the stand. A card is a great idea, but a verbal statement to the effect of "I am exercising my right not to make any statement" is, based on my reading of Jenkins, essential. Especially given that many police officers wear audio recording devices when on duty nowadays, and a card may be conveniently lost. But then, I'm not a lawyer, and can't give legal advice.